Testing the limits of the all-you-can-eat buffet
Wed, Feb 24, 2010 (4 p.m.)
Illustration: Rick Sealock
All you can eat. Think about those words, how they string together, and decide exactly what that means. And now ask yourself: Do you really want to eat all you can?
- All-You-Can-Eat All Day
- Carnival World Buffet at Rio. $24.
- 3700 W. Flamingo Road, 777-7777.
It seems the Las Vegas buffet has been revolutionized by a new promotion, a new deal: all day, all you can eat. The price at many of these food factories has gone up over the years, along with the quality of grub and the comfort of the cafeteria. But now, at many casinos, you can pay between 20 and 30 bucks just once and feast forever—breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I had to try it out. I chose one of the city’s biggest and most celebrated buffets, the Rio’s Carnival World. The place is massive, serving more than 300 different dishes every day. Breakfast is $14.99, lunch is $16.99 and dinner (and weekend brunch) is $23.99, while the all-day pass came to just under $26 with tax. Getting your money’s worth is no longer a concern.
So I developed new goals: Consume everything. Test the all-you-can-eat concept. Eat tacos and egg rolls for breakfast. Try all nine flavors of gelato. Leave a table full of messy, empty plates in my wake.
It was a terrible idea.
Breakfast I arrive around 9:30 a.m. and the Carnival World is sparsely populated. The western wing of the buffet line was full of empty steel trays, but there still is far too much to eat, infinite options. I’m excited.
I begin with a well-designed plate of bacon, sausage links, crispy potato medallions, fresh fruit (I’m healthy), a cheese blintz with strawberry topping, eggs Benedict and a chicken flauta. Ah, buffet life. Two meals worth of food on one plate. Everything tastes great and goes down easy, even the hollandaise. Strawberry sauce on bacon = yes.
Things move along. I make some mistakes. A carving station at breakfast is completely unnecessary. I probably don’t need a thick slab of roasted pork on the same plate with ham steak and scrambled eggs. The smoked salmon tastes suspect. But I leave stuffed, completely satisfied, wondering how I’ll be back in a few hours.
Lunch At around 11:30, I still feel ridiculously full. At 1 p.m. I go to work on my first serving of lunch—pizza, an Italian bean salad, a beef taco with guacamole, refried beans and Spanish rice. I’m already struggling. When I gently set a corn dog on my next plate, alongside a steaming cup of chili, fear sets in.
The funny thing about Carnival World is walking down this endless line of food, so many different preparations of beef and chicken and pork and fish—and then discovering the salad bar, squashed into the most distant corner. Veggies in hiding.
I am becoming aware of discouraging incidents inside my body. I am wrong to eat sushi at a buffet, but I think it’s funny and ironic that I plate it with deep-fried fish, shrimp and scallops. Clearly, I am losing it.
Dinner A dull pain lives in my distended stomach now. Forever. To get through the night and hype myself up, I bring in buffet-friendly reinforcements: a big Samoan, a wily Korean, a guy named Moose. They are beasts, and I am inspired.
I destroy a salad with too much blue-cheese dressing. I push through more pizza, pasta, prime rib, chicken wings and Chinese barbecue. The dinnertime offerings are very similar to those at lunch, with crab legs thrown in. I skip them and find enough energy for dessert, an array of tiny cakes and pastries, bananas Foster and tasty gelato.
I have never been more finished.
Epilogue The majority of the food at Carnival World is pretty good. Dessert is best. Service is wonderful. The music is awful. After 13 plates in about 13 hours, the verdict is simple. The all-day price is an amazing bargain, but I can’t imagine why anybody would want or need to eat three meals at a buffet in one day. Even Moose called me crazy. What was I thinking?
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.
Voted the “Best Buffet in Las Vegas” by the Las Vegas Review-Journal year after year, the Carnival World Buffet's global feast features more than 1,000 international items daily. With selections representing Asia to Italy, the U.S. to Mexico, Carnival World is widely known for its diversity, including: omelets, pizza, sushi, teppanyaki, freshly carved meats and Asian barbecue. The buffet is distinctive for its 12 food stations and live-action cooking.
Breakfast is weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., costing $20.99 ($19.99 for Total Rewards guest, $12.99 for children ages 4-8, free for children under 4). The weekend breakfast is from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and is $23.99 ($22.99 for Total Rewards guest, $14.99 for children ages 4-8, free for kids under 4).
A Champagne brunch is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekends, costing $30.99 ($29.99 for TR guests, $19.99 for children ages 4-8, free for children under 4).
Lunch is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and costs $22.99 ($21.99 for TR guests, $14.99 for children 4 to 8, free for those under 4).
See information about the Buffet of Buffets pass, which allows you to dine in eight resort buffets in a 24-hour period.
Dinner, served 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., has a weekday price of $30.99 ($29.99 for TR guests, $17.99 for children 4 to 8, free for kids under 4), and a weekend price of $35.99 ($34.99 for TR guests, $19.99 for children ages 4-8, free for kids under 4).
For groups of 14 or more, please call (702) 731-7778 or toll-free at (866) 733-5827.